A $50 million classroom and laboratory building for Oregon State University’s marine studies initiative will be built at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport as previously announced, OSU President Ed Ray declared on Thursday.
Ray initially announced the decision in August 2016 but agreed to review the move amid criticism that the site was unsafe. The Hatfield center, home to marine science facilities operated by OSU and various state and federal agencies, is located on Yaquina Bay in a tsunami inundation zone.
After safety questions were raised, Ray created an oversight committee with an independent review panel to evaluate the design, engineering and construction of the new building, a key part of the university’s push to expand its marine studies offerings in Newport.
The committee’s charge was to ensure the university was on track to keep a number of promises about the new facility, mainly related to safety.
Among other things, OSU pledged that:
• The marine studies building would be constructed to survive a magnitude 9.0 earthquake.
• The building would be able to survive a tsunami resulting from a natural disaster such as a Cascadia Subduction Zone quake.
• The building would be repairable following a less severe tsunami.
• The building would be able to serve as a vertical evacuation site in the event of a major tsunami.
• The rest of the campus would be served by a preferred horizontal evacuation route.
• The project would be built on time and on budget.
In November, OSU unveiled plans for a building that would meet those goals. The three-story, 72,000-square-foot structure will include an exterior ramp leading to a rooftop evacuation site with room to accommodate 900 people in the event of a tsunami.
At the same time, the university announced that student housing to serve the Newport campus would be built on higher ground.
On Thursday, Ray publicly endorsed the oversight committee’s work and said that plans to construct the marine studies building at the Hatfield Marine Science Center site would proceed.
“I am confident that the results of this oversight, analysis and significant public engagement will result in a safer and more resilient marine studies building and overall HMSC campus,” Ray said in a news release.
“By constructing the Marine Studies Building at HMSC with a vertical evacuation component, Oregon State University will provide for greater safety for the Yaquina Bay community and all of those who visit, work and study at the Hatfield Marine Science Center,” the president added. “At the same time, the building will serve as an Oregon, national and global model for safety and resilience within coastal communities.”
In a report issued Dec. 13, the oversight committee said it was satisfied that OSU had achieved most of its goals for the marine studies building, including the ability to survive a 9.0 earthquake and a severe tsunami, be repairable following a less severe tsunami and serve as a safe and accessible vertical evaluation site.
But the report also expressed some concerns.
For one thing, it noted that OSU has removed the horizontal evacuation route from the project and plans to pursue that effort separately with community partners.
“It appears that the horizontal evacuation route is at risk from liquefaction and lateral spreading,” the report states, adding a recommendation that OSU ensure that an adequate horizontal evacuation route is completed “within a reasonable timeframe.”
The report also states that the project is several months behind schedule and “significantly over budget,” although it doesn’t say by how much, and expresses concerns that cost overruns could eat into program offerings in marine studies.
OSU Vice President Steve Clark, the university’s chief spokesman, said OSU officials are aware of those issues and are addressing them.
The university is working with the city of Newport, Lincoln County and local emergency service providers to find ways to fortify the evacuation route from the campus area to Safe Haven Hill, the nearest ground high enough to be considered safe from a tsunami, Clark said.
The budget issue, he added, would be addressed by a combination of additional fundraising and cost cuts designed to minimize any impacts on marine studies programs.